Chelsea Women squeezed into the 5th Round of the FA Cup after being chased down by a Liverpool team who fought back hard in a dramatic second half at Kingsmeadow on Sunday lunchtime. The Blues won 3-2, with manager Emma Hayes perplexed that her team had allowed the visitors to dominate the last half hour
Chelsea Women squeezed into the 5th Round of the FA Cup after being chased down by a Liverpool team who fought back hard in a dramatic second half at Kingsmeadow on Sunday lunchtime.
The Blues won 3-2, with manager Emma Hayes perplexed that her team had allowed the visitors to dominate the last half hour of play. Reds gaffer Matt Beard reckoned that had the game gone on another five minutes, his team could have pushed it into extra time.
The turning point came just before the hour mark when, with the Blues holding a comfortable 2-0 lead, he make two key substitutions, bringing on defender Gemma Bonner and winger Taylor Hinds for Yana Daniels and Megan Campbell. It transformed the Liverpool attack. Within two minutes, Sam Kerr’s Chelsea goals – in the 31st minute from a Niamh Charles cross, and in the 52nd when Fran Kirby crossed and Lauren James dummied – no longer looked impregnable.
Missy Bo Kearns set up a chance, and Ceri Holland walloped past Zecira Musovic after Charles and Millie Bright had got in each other’s way trying to head clear.
Suddenly Chelsea were under pressure. Hayes responded by bringing on Johanna Kaneryd and Sophie Ingle to shore up a team that was starting to look stretched. But instead it almost led to catastrophe for the Blues as Ingle appeared to handle the ball in the area.
Ref Stacey Fullicks pointed to the spot, but Ingle fell to the floor clutching her face. As it was a head injury, the trainer attended. When that kerfuffle had died down, the ref decided to give Chelsea a free kick instead.
Beard was furious. Barely a quarter of an hour remained, and a converted penalty would have led to extra time. In fact he was so baffled that he confronted the official to express his feelings. He was told that Ingle’s arm had not been in an unnatural position when the ball struck it, but he cast doubt on that verdict in a press conference in which he demonstrated Ingle’s arm position, as if she was turning right on a bicycle!
As the game resumed, Kerr completed her hat-trick; Charles crossing and the striker from Down Under heading home for 3-1. A late consolation from sub Bonner made it 3-2, but Chelsea had clinched the win to put them in Monday’s draw for the 5th Round.
Liverpool proved far harder opponents than their lowly league status suggested in a match which saw the return, after having a baby, of Chelsea’s German midfielder Mellie Leupolz. “It’s just nice being back with the team,” she said. “I love combining being a mother and being with the team.”
Emma Hayes reckons she’ll need time to settle back in and return to full match fitness, but she values having Leupolz as a trusted option for the second half of the season. “She’s doing everything she can; she’s probably not sleeping a lot, and she’s probably trying to figure all that out… but we’re so delighted to have her back.”
Hayes was short and brusque with her answers, post-match, pointing out that the game had a real cup-tie feel about it. “It became a lot of long-ball percentage football, which for me just turns it into a scrap,” she said.
“It became disorganised, chaotic and not fun to watch at times… but we have to accept that sometimes teams can do this. I thought we had enough chances to wrap the game up at 2-0, which we didn’t. Then at 3-1 we should have shut up shop, but we didn’t.”
Next up for the Blues, a trip to play Spurs at Dagenham on Sunday.